October 4, 2008

Nam-Keen ? Go for Roasted Snacks

By Aruna Raghuram

Ahmedabad: Ah! For that crisp, crunchy, delicious namkeen. We may not live to eat, but snacks are irresistible stuff when you're curled up cosily watching TV or catching up with friends or family over hot cuppas.

But, with obesity being projected as the root problem behind several silent killers, people are avoiding fried snacks and opting for roasted ones. While tastebuds are reasonably satisfied , they're left without guilt and with the feeling that they're fighting flab.

Says Jaimin Patel, proprietor of a sweetmeat shop, "Demand for roasted snacks has soared. Today, they account for 25 per cent of our total namkeen sales. People are willing to compromise on taste for better health. These snacks are roasted in special kadhais and oil is sprinkled along with masala at the end."

Price is 30-40 per cent higher than regular namkeen, but people don't mind paying. "Future of this market is bright and with rising demand, more research will be done to develop new products," he adds. Patel's shop stocks snacks made of bajra, wheat, corn (most popular), moong, chana and soybean . They also make diet chips of dry potato powder. Only around three per cent oil is used in these chips as compared to 100 per cent in deep-fried chips, says Patel.

Though market for roasted snacks seems huge no national player has ventured into it. Supply is from small, local players, often unbranded. Roasted offerings include moong jor, chana jor, soybean jor, pudina dal, moong ankurit (whole), diet chevda, aloo tikka, disco papad, cornflakes, mattar jor and navratan mix. The packets carry varied claims - no cholesterol, low fat, low calorie, high protein and high fibre. But, they do list edible oil as an ingredient along with salt and masala.

"People, especially 40-plus women, show a lot of interest in diet snacks. But, no standard company makes these. So I only keep diet khakra," says Amit Patel , owner of a grocery store.

Dietician Kalpana Shukla gets roasted snacks from Jaipur for her clients. "When clients are on holiday, instead of eating fried stuff they can carry these and spice them up with some tomato and onion to make bhel. I even suggest these snacks as tiffin for children who are obese," she says.

Why are there so few companies in this business? The reason, she says, is that equipment required to prepare roasted snacks is expensive and marketing is also costly. However, one doubt remains - are these snacks really healthy? Dietician Sima Shah thinks not. "They don't mention proportion of oil used. They are better than fried snacks, but I would still recommend murmura, Marie biscuit and diet khakhra to my clients." she says.

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